Nigeria’s trajectory and its constitution

As every society evolves so has Nigeria been, and organically inter-connected with this evolution is the paramount role that the use of constitution as a requisite tool for government and governance has played at different stages in shaping her fortune and natural progression. The name Nigeria was given effect at the so-called Amalgamation of Southern and Northern Protectorates at Zungeru in the present Niger state by the then Governor- General of the country (under colonial rule) the late Sir Frederick Lugard apparently for administrative convenience or expediency, the disparate and numerous ethnic nationalities in the two orotectorates cobbled together and given a monolithic name. The unilateral and supercilious manner in which this fusion was done was to become an ingredient for strident contestation and debate in later years among the stakeholders in the geo-political zones.    

The colonial rule was in full swing until October 1,1960 when the country got its  independence with the attendant effusive and profuse celebrations marked by glamour, glitz and bulbous  razzmatazz. The attainment of independence though bloodless did not come on a platter of gold but through the instrumentality of the studious, sustained, highly cerebral and robust efforts/struggle of the frontline, colourful and well-educated regional leaders like Sir Ahmadu Bello and Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa from the North, Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and Samuel Ladoke Akintola from the South-west and Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe from the South-east of the country, among others. 

A natural accompaniment of the new got independence was the making of 1960 constitution with its unique and different provisions as to how Nigeria would be run henceforth. Then came 1963 and a Reublic (an entity with full political autonomy and self-governance) was handed to Nigeria, also with 1963 constitution as necessary tool for administering the country that was then clearly and geographically demarcated into three regions, namely, North, East and West as sub-administrative entities with enormous autonomy under a central government based in Lagos as the country’s capital under a parliamentary system of government. It is widely believed the parliamentary system that guaranteed  autonomous regionalism engendered massive, remarkable development including healthy competition among the regions under the 1963 constitution.                            

January 15, 1966 came and then the fire -the military struck. A group of five young, vibrant Majors in the army led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu tried to effect a change of government forcefully by power of the bullet that they acerbically accused of monumental corruption, embezzlement, favouritism, perversion of justice, etc. Though the five majors struck but they couldn’t take over the reins of government as their senior officers botched the coup and did the taking over. The circumstance heralded  the coming to power of Major General Aguiyi Ironsi as the new head of state. After a space of time in power, and apparently for reasons best known to him, Ironsi abolished parliamentary system and replaced with what was dubbed as Unitary Government.            From  Ironsi era up to the so-called Murtala/Obasanjo regime that handed over power to the civilian regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979, Nigeria had a stretch of unbroken military rule.          

Production of 1979 constitution came with the handing over to the new civilian regime of Shagari which was approved  by 47 out of 49 committee members set up by the preceding military regime and no wonder radical activists, social critics, certain regional leaders/political gladiators persistently tag it a military constitution as it is usually perceived as not being representative of the Nigerian people’s wishes and aspirations.They posit the modality of the production should have allowed for wider consultation with the different ethnic groupings that make up Nigeria, professional bodies, business communities, unions and similar critical stakeholders.

Another spell of military rule followed Shagari government which was toppled in December 1983 and this took the country to another round of civil rule  when Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar handed power to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo with a brand new constitution for federal system of government, the same version of government under Shagari. The production of the 1999 constitution was done in the same or similar way to that of 1979 and this was greeted expectedly with barrage of bashing and disdain by all manner of critics. 

Among other fault lines that have been a subject of perennial repudiation and criticism is the preponderance of Exclusive Legislative Lists for only federal government powers and action over that of Concurrent Lists (for both  federal and state governments). Items under Exclusive List used to be 68 (until Buhari civilian regime took power and railway to Concurrent at the twilight of his government) while Concurrent had only 12. It is the belief of those that lampoon this significant section that it  accords too much resources and powers to the centre and this will serve as an impediment to the desired growth and development of the states under the federation. As an alternative in this regard, they  proffer the devolution of more powers and resources to states and local governments (being closest to the people) so the much-needed rapid growth and advancements can percolate down more quickly. 

Under the the immediate past regime of Buhari, a Senator from Osun state, Professor Adeyeye stood up one day and called for total review of the constitution as according to him”…it cannot guarantee unity, justice, development, fairness, prosperity, security and the like for the country. He concluded that the document is the major problem or undoing of Nigeria. Similar calls have been made recently by respected personalities in the country including certain governors e.g Sanwo Olu of Lagos, traditional rulers like Ooni of Ife and notable professionals like the renowned constitutional lawyer, Dr.Tunji Abayomi, that opined in recent times at a public function that the present Nigerian constitution is not people’s document.      He believes we ran into the military that imposed the constitution on us and he is seeking Nigeria to be made into a federating unit and wants Nigerians’ voices on the structure of Nigerian Constitution. Fervent calls like the afore-mentioned had always been made, still being made, but will the present government go on this? Only time will tell.

Mr Abdullahi writes from Abuja